Kentucky Families with Children Continue to Struggle During the Pandemic
New Data Show Challenges with Hunger, Housing, Health Insurance, and Mental Health
LOUISVILLE, KY — Too many Kentucky families continue to struggle with food security, ability to pay next month’s rent or mortgage, and mental health, according to Kids, Families and COVID-19: Pandemic Pain Points and the Urgent Need to Respond, a 50-state report of recent household data developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation analyzing how families are faring during the COVID-19 crisis.
This KIDS COUNT report examines data from weekly surveys conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau that demonstrate how families across the country are challenged to meet basic needs during this global public health crisis while managing school, work, and mental health. This Household Pulse Survey data is an update to the data included in the latest Kentucky KIDS COUNT County Data Book Kentucky Youth Advocates released in November. As the opening essay of the County Data Book analyzed the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and the systemic racial injustice, the Foundation finds that the concurrent health and economic crises are exacerbating trends that show vulnerable families are unable to fulfill basic needs.
“Lost jobs and income since March have pushed many Kentucky families to the brink, as they can no longer guarantee their ability to put dinner on the table and a roof over their kids’ heads. And parents who have been able to continue working face different challenges, such as finding quality, reliable child care when early childhood centers around the commonwealth have closed, some permanently,” said Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, member of the KIDS COUNT network. “Kids are counting on pandemic recovery efforts that support their families and yield more equitable outcomes for their futures.”
In assessing food security, the ability to make rent or mortgage payments, health insurance status, and mental health concerns, the Foundation identified four pain points for families. Key findings for Kentucky include:
- FOOD SECURITY: Nearly one in six families with children (16 percent) said they sometimes or often did not have enough to eat in their household, compared to 14 percent nationwide. Although funding for food assistance increased early in the pandemic and many schools eventually developed meal pickup or delivery programs, hunger among children during the pandemic is likely explained in part by school closures.
- HOUSING STABILITY: About one in five households with children (19 percent) had slight or no confidence they would make the next rent or mortgage payment on time, compared to 18 percent nationwide. Housing instability has hit Black families hardest – 25 percent had little or no confidence in their ability to pay their next rent or mortgage payment on time compared to 17 percent of their non-Hispanic White peers.
- HEALTH INSURANCE STATUS: One in ten adults with children in their household (10 percent) lacked health insurance, compared to 12 percent nationwide. Children’s well-being naturally depends in part on the health of their parents or guardians, and kids are more likely to have insurance if their parents do. The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on the health of Black and Latinx communities, due to pre-existing disparities in coverage, must be considered in pandemic recovery efforts so all children and families can access the care they need.
- MENTAL HEALTH: Nearly one-quarter of respondents with children in their household (24 percent) felt down, depressed, or hopeless in the previous week, compared to 21 percent nationwide. Mental health has become an acute concern for many adults and young people in 2020, as they deal with everything from uncertainty and isolation to race-based trauma and, for too many, the profound grief associated with coronavirus-related deaths of family and friends.
“The reality for families from our rural communities to our cities is that these ‘pain points’ aren’t going away without urgent state and federal interventions. As we demonstrated in the latest County Data Book and as this new report shows, the status quo was not working for many Kentucky kids and their families prior to the pandemic and the challenges of 2020 will have ripple effects for years to come. We must use this opportunity to rethink and rebuild our systems in a way that achieves the vision of Kentucky being the best place in American to be young, regardless of the color of your skin, zip code, or income level,” said Brooks.
Kentucky Youth Advocates urges policymakers and child advocates to find common ground and put COVID-19 response, through a lens of racial equity, at the top of 2021 agendas to ensure that children have what they need to survive and thrive. The Foundation and Kentucky Youth Advocates call on elected officials and other decision makers to:
- Ensure racial and ethnic equity are prioritized in policymaking by using disaggregated data and engaging community stakeholders. This can ensure that the policymaking process is informed by the diverse perspectives of those hardest hit by the pandemic and created in partnership with communities. This approach should underpin any concrete policy actions.
- Prioritize the physical, oral, and mental health of all children by sustaining investments in Medicaid and KCHIP and prioritizing funds focused on closing the remaining gap and addressing racial disparities in health coverage so that children and families can continue to access the health care they need. To promote mental health, particularly in times of crisis, policymakers can ensure the state budget includes dedicated funding, and school districts have the information and resources needed, to implement the Expanded Care Services policy, which allows health services to be provided to Medicaid eligible students within the school building or virtual school setting. Lawmakers should also guarantee that any COVID-19 vaccine that is distributed will be made available to all, without cost as a factor.
- Help families with children achieve financial stability and bolster their well-being by eliminating barriers to accessing critical supports, such as unemployment insurance, food benefits, and child care assistance. Federal lawmakers can provide further funding relief for the fragile child care sector to support center- and home-based centers so kids have high-quality early learning opportunities, parents have safer care options as they go to work, and the economy can begin to rebuild. State decisionmakers can continue support for Pandemic-EBT as a critical benefit that ensures children have access to food while distance learning, and can strengthen efforts to ensure all eligible families receive the benefit and understand how to use it. Though some steps have been taken, by both the state and federal governments, more protections and assistance are needed to prevent evictions and foreclosures and keep families from accumulating housing debt. Additionally, future economic stimulus payments must include families with mixed immigration status.
- Ensure schools are prepared to meet the needs of students disparately affected by the pandemic by sustaining investments in Family Resource and Youth Service Centers, which have been integral in providing tools for families to remove barriers to student learning. Lawmakers can also address the digital divide impacting rural and urban communities by investing in infrastructure needed for more affordable, higher speed internet services so children can access the educational resources and telehealth services they need.
The Kids, Families and COVID-19: Pandemic Pain Points and the Urgent Need to Respond report will be available December 14 at 12:01 a.m. ET at aecf.org. Journalists interested in creating maps or graphs in stories about the report can use the KIDS COUNT Data Center at datacenter.kidscount.org.
About Kentucky Youth Advocates
Kentucky Youth Advocates believes all children deserve to be safe, healthy, and secure. As THE independent voice for Kentucky’s children, we work to ensure policymakers create investments and policies that are good for children. Learn more at www.kyyouth.org.
About the Annie E. Casey Foundation
The Annie E. Casey Foundation creates a brighter future for the nation’s children by developing solutions to strengthen families, build paths to economic opportunity and transform struggling communities into safer and healthier places to live, work and grow. For more information, visit www.aecf.org. KIDS COUNT® is a registered trademark of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.